Wednesday, June 04, 2014

John Knox World Environment Day Statement: "UN rights expert urges States to fulfil human rights obligations related to environmental protection"

John H. Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment and Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law has been advancing his mandate. (See HERE, and HERE).

For World Environment Day and in his capacity as the Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, Professor Knox recently issued a statement, "UN rights expert urges States to fulfil human rights obligations related to environmental protection" which is posted below.

One of the most interesting elements of the statement is the decision to focus almost exclusively on the state duty to protect human rights related to environmental protection. This approach doers not parallel other approaches, especially that grounded in the Guiding Principles on Business and Hum,an Rights, that seek to recognize a dual set of governance related obligations--the duty of the state to protect human rights and the responsibility of business to respect human rights (autonomously of the state duty). Those differences in approach may play out in interesting ways as both the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment move forward to full their respective mandates. And, indeed, the role of business, both as an actor within structures of international (and national) law and as an autonomous governance subject within the framework of non-state regulatory systems and expectations, may deserve some substantial consideration as a necessary element in the polycentric matrix that is the functional reality of environmental impacts and its human rights consequences. One can only hope that , in the process, policy coherence is maintained at the international level as these two very important efforts progress.

UN rights expert urges States to fulfil human rights obligations related to environmental protection

GENEVA (4 June 2014) – On World Environment Day, UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment John Knox calls on States to fulfil their human rights obligations related to environmental protection. He also urges States to protect civil society activists working on environmental issues, to ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all.

“Environmental degradation, including harm from climate change, desertification, air and water pollution, and exposure to toxic substances, impairs the enjoyment of a vast range of human rights, including the right to life, to health and to an adequate standard of living.

Human rights law clearly imposes obligations on States that are relevant to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This was recognized by States at the UN Human Rights Council, in the March 2014 resolution on human rights and the environment.

States should assess the impact of environmental projects on human rights, make environmental information public, enable participation in environmental related decision-making processes, and provide access to effective remedies for environmental harm.

States should also adopt legal and institutional frameworks to protect against such harm. In particular, they have a duty to protect their people against human rights abuses committed by private actors, including private companies.

Given the non-discrimination principle in human rights law, additional measures should be taken to protect and promote the rights of individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to environmental harm, including women, children and indigenous peoples.

As States implement their human rights obligations relating to the environment, they should pay particular attention to the threats against environmental human rights defenders – those who strive to protect the environment for the benefit of us all.

Civil society activists working on environmental issues are increasingly at risk. A recent study by Global Witness shows that, on average, two environmental human rights defenders have been killed each week over the past four years.

States should do their utmost to protect and promote the rights of environmental activists. Those who strive to protect our environment are entitled to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association, without fearing for their life or physical integrity.

Environmental protection and human rights are interdependent. Without a healthy environment, the full enjoyment of human rights is impossible, and the exercise of human rights helps ensure a healthy environment.

Environmental defenders are at the front line of efforts to protect us all from the severe impact of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of human rights. States must do more to protect environmental human rights defenders from threats, and to promptly investigate threats and killings when they occur.”


John Knox was appointed as the Independent Expert on human rights and the environment in July 2012 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is independent from any government or organization. Learn more, visit:

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